RJ Johnson

Under E0-17, announced Tuesday by Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, Anchorage bars and restaurants will be able to open back up at 25% capacity. For many the announcement was a sigh of relief. Others are worried about the portion of the EO that prohibits serving alcohol after 11 p.m., which doesn’t make a lot of sense if the concern is preventing community spread.

In a December 11th press briefing Governor Cuomo of New York revealed that bars and restaurants accounted for 1.43% of all new Covid-19 cases, while private gatherings accounted for 73.84%, mainly household and social. With contact tracing still being the rule, some members of the service industry fear that they will be blamed for cases that occur at private events that happen after bars are mandated to stop serving. It is a complicated issue and one that the staff of bars and restaurants have every right to be concerned about.

The 25% capacity restriction is not really that much of an issue. Many bar owners and managers have stated that if they were at that capacity during every shift, they would be able to make ends meet. The financial effects of being shut down and hunkered down have been devastating to this industry as a whole, and especially to the people who have made it their career, some of them for decades. When you have been bartending for over 20 years it is difficult to find work in other fields. In the past months many locations have been forced to shut their doors for good, or businesses that have been a staple in the Anchorage dining scene are now being put up for sale. For many employees they have had to rely on unemployment to survive. Unfortunately, those unemployment benefits are running out. Six months of benefits does not last long when you have been out of work for longer than that, and the $300 stimulus this fall was only applicable to anyone whose weekly benefits were over $100. Most bartenders and servers' benefits fell underneath that mark. Rental assistance was overwhelmed and could not keep up with the demand for those who needed it.

Even during the months that bars were able to be open, the number of customers coming out was not enough to require a full staff so hours were drastically reduced for employees of some businesses. Many tried to create positions for their employees in the form of delivery drivers, to-go servers, or for repairs and remodels to the buildings themselves. For several owners they needed to do this work themselves because the amount of money coming in was not even enough to cover their mortgage, let alone pay employees. During the months that they were open, many customers were not coming out because of the fear of contracting the virus. Thousands of people were laid off, and when businesses were allowed to open there were not enough shifts to give everyone a position again.

As stated in several other update columns, everyone in the alcohol industry is trained to keep their clientele safe. From watching to make sure that something isn’t slipped into your drink, making sure that you are not over-served, and assuring that you have safe transportation home, caring for the people whose tips and patronage allow them to live comfortably is just part of the job. Adding new tasks such as requiring masks, sanitizing, contact tracing, and the rest was just one more step in assuring that they would be able to have a job.

As with most things related to the bar industry the responsibility for safety falls on to the patron to make sure that they are also being as safe as they can. Do not imbibe to the point of intoxication. Make sure that you have safe transportation home before you start to drink. Do not leave your beverages unattended. Wear your mask. Sit down only with people that are inside your social circle. Do not enter a business if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID. Wash your hands regularly, and wash them well. Be honest when filling out contact tracing forms. Do not throw house parties after you leave a bar.

2020 has been a year unlike any other that most people will ever experience. For bars and restaurants this is especially true. There has been a steady decline in profits for many years, but nothing like what has happened since the beginning of this year. The majority of people that work in the service industry field do so because they love it. The money is wonderful and the social aspect is always one of the best parts, but for most it is a joy to go to work, see their favorite customers, and provide happiness and satisfaction for people that they come to truly care about. They want to keep you safe. They also want to keep their jobs and their homes. They want to be able to pay their bills. The only way to make sure that we are not shut down again is to do your part as a responsible patron and follow the rules, mandates, and emergency orders. We really are all in this together, but it will take all of us to make sure that we do not see further casualties.

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